Only Business

“I’m not above a little harmless flirting, if it helps get the job done. You understand, it never really becomes more than that, just a little chatting, a bit of intense eye contact, and perhaps my hand over their’s for the briefest of moments,” she said.

“That’s all well and good, but the fact remains, flirting is not what you were doing this morning when I found you,” he said, his fist clenching and unclenching to some unseen rhythm.

“Well, no. I will admit that last night got away from me. There was wine. There was talk. And for a mark, well, he was remarkably charming.”  Her lips betrayed the faintest hint of a smile. He slammed his fist down on the dining table, the coffee cups rattled in their saucers and the bud vase tipped over, spilling the flower and water out onto the white table clothe.

“Is this funny to you?”

“A bit.” She pulled a cigarette from the delicate sterling case and pressed it to her painted lips. The deep plum shade she’d worn the night before still lingered, and stained the edges of the filter. A low growl came up from the depths of his throat, but as the silence stretched between them, he broke first. His eyes darted to the table, his hand disappeared into a pocket and retrieved a lighter, and with a practiced motion he flicked it open with a thumb, lighting her cigarette in the process.

“I’m not happy, if you hadn’t guessed,” he said. Her smile stretched out wide, like a cat.

“Of course, darling, I don’t know that you ever are. If it helps you sleep at night, it was only business.”

Flash Fiction non-Friday: The Rapture

I’m out of town on vacation this Friday, so no new Flash Fiction then. Instead, you get it a couple days early. Not really for the easily offended or particularly religious.

Everyone was a bit surprised when the Rapture came, myself in particular, having been a staunch atheist all of my life. It was a Wednesday, which seemed odd in and of itself. One might have expected the messiah to pick a day with a bit more significance. Monday, because fuck don’t Mondays always suck? Or Friday since they signify an end of sorts. Sunday of course would fit, what with the church schedule and all, but no it was a Wednesday.

He, Jesus that is, descended on his cloud, I’m told it was quite lovely but cannot vouch for it as I was stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. Then the damned, well actually the non-damned, Christians just started evaporating out of their cars, leaving me in the great-grand-fucking-mother of all traffic jams. You’ve never seen so many empty mini-vans, pickups and SUV’s. Honestly, I was surprised at how many there were missing, and having known a few that up and disappeared I have to say I find the admission policy in heaven to be a little lenient.

For myself, I’m not terribly upset that I got left behind, other than the sting of having gotten it wrong that a god really did exist. To be fair he was omnipotent and doing a damn fine job of hiding. The country went on, and though not a single member of Congress got zapped. Though there were plenty of right-wing hypocrites left around, there were plenty more decent atheist left wingers. It was kind of nice really. Pestilence came along and rather than preach abstinence, we came up with some workable solutions. By the time good old Famine reared her emaciated little head we were all working so well together that we mostly didn’t notice. God’s divine retribution was really coming as a bit of a disappointment to some. The problem with his plan was, see, he got rid of everybody that was relying on him. He left the people behind that were already getting on with life by themselves. War tried real hard, but let’s face it – the Prius driving atheists just didn’t have it in them. We didn’t need to fight about oil or God, so there wasn’t too much left. Fine, there was some blood shed over Android vs. iOS, but that had gone on for a while anyway.

In the end, Satan saw a world bereft of God’s people getting along quite well and realized that really that was victory enough.

Flash Fiction Friday: Yggdrasil

Long time no flash fiction. Anyway, without further ado, here is a little something:

With leaves of hearts and petals tender like kisses the flower spoke in the language of love. It’s gentle perfume whispered promises that would never be kept. Layered in sweetness and fond remembrances of sunshine past, beneath the coolness of a dew gathering, the scent carried something more.

That’s what some damn hippy poet wrote anyway. Making romance out of the thing, when there’s nothing lovely about it. The first vine had crept through a crack in Main Street, nothing more than a shifting of black top in the hot sun, but once the first leaves opened to the sun it did nothing but grow. In three weeks time Main Street was closed to all but foot traffic. Tourists poured in to see what the citizens of Canton considered a Public Works disaster. Bright orange cones and white saw horses rerouted cars to the surrounding blocks as more and more foot traffic gathered. With their fanny packs, their cameras, and silly hats they came to see what we could not seem to kill. The vines had coalesced into a trunk of sorts, and by the fourth week the thing had capped thirty five feet in height. It ripped up pavement as it swelled in the sunshine and still the crowds grew, tightly packed to eww and ahh at our failure. Someone joked we should call it Ygdrasil, the tree of life, since it seemingly could not be killed. A blogger picked it up and the name stuck. There were patches and t-shirts by week five.

The lines spiraled out a block in every direction as everyone came to see the beautiful Yggdrasil, nature conquering all of man’s efforts to stifle her. It was then, in the sixth week that the first blooms opened.

Three thousand seven hundred and fourteen dead in the blink of an eye. They simply lay down in the sun and anyone that rushed in to pull them out did the same. I’m ashamed to say that they lay there and rot for the first three days. We were a small town, crushed under the industry of tourism and didn’t have the man power or technology to handle it. The government stepped in, forming an ever-widening quarantine area while men in hazmat suits with tanks of imported air moved in with bulldozers to clear the dead.

Yggdrasil was no tree of life.

It’s been five years since that day. No one lives in Canton anymore. No one lives within two hundred miles of Yggdrasil, except the desperate and insane. They say it is taller than Mt. Everest now. I believe them, though I couldn’t have anyway to verify it. I was there when it all began and I hope to be there when it all ends. That’s why tonight, on a lonely dirt runway I’m helping to load a black market Russian nuclear device into an old beat up Cessna twin turbo. It will be a one way trip, but that’s ok. I don’t have anyone left to say good bye to.

Flash Fiction Friday: Nepotism

Nepotism can only get you so far in life. For me, it got me here, crouched behind somebody’s beater kelly green Ford Pinto hoping that the bullets whizzing by don’t find that magic spot that made these damn cars go kaboom in the Consumer Reports’s safety videos.  It takes me thirty-seven seconds to pop the clip, find the spare in the depths of my coat pocket, and fumble it into the base of the handle of my semi-auto hand canon. This is slow, in case you are wondering. I might have mentioned nepotism already, that’s the only reason I have this job. My uncle’s a big shot with the firm, so I got a spot on a goon squad despite my complete lack of talent. Guido is my partner. There is some resentment built into the partnership. Guido is a hotshot, cold-blooded, all kinds of badass type of goon. He got stuck with me because my uncle wouldn’t take kindly to his favorite nephew ending up meat pie, so Guido gets stuck with relatively tame work and baby sitting my lame ass, meanwhile Guido stirs more shit than strictly necessary leaving me angry at him for putting me in danger. It’s a nice dynamic, a dynamic that is currently fully – well dynamic. There are bullets whizzing by, I think I’ve said as much, and that is because Guido stirred shit where there was no shit. This was a simple drop. No payment necessary, hell we didn’t even have to speak, but Guido did. I don’t fully know what he said, it was in dog tongue, but knowing Guido it involved racism and sexually explicit acts that could only be performed in an alternate reality under a different set of physical laws. He’s colorful, our Guido. Anyway, the dogs didn’t take kindly and now Guido’s pumping O positive on the asphalt while I try to figure out the best way to kill six dogs with one gun and zero talent.

“Fuck you Guido!” Shouting won’t accomplish anything, but it makes me feel better, even if only momentarily. Guido’s lips move, maybe a retort or maybe a spectacularly good idea on how to get out of this, but my ears are too busy with the TINK TINK TINK of high-speed ammunition ripping apart the fender near my head. I push the tip of my gun over the edge of the Pinto and squeeze of a burst. There is no howling, exclamations, or any other form of auditory indication I hit anything at all. Which is depressing since I am only about thirty feet from a glass storefront. There’s an adage about broadsides of barns that is fully applicable to me, particularly when I’m nervous. I also tend to go on a bit.

Flash Fiction Friday: On the hunt

Roland held tight to his Winchester, as the stage-coach shook more violently on the rough terrain. His boot heel caught against the long rosewood case, keeping it from sliding about. “That sure is a nice lookin’ gun you got there Mister.” The driver said as he eyed the silver sheen from the corner of his eye. Roland did not respond. He suspected the driver knew well enough why his gun was silver plated. Just as he’d probably seen the scars on his ears, after sitting side by side for hours now. If the driver had held any reservation with doing business with his kind, the gold he’d been offered for this ride had overcome them.

“Mister, you sure you want to be coming out this far? Ain’t nothin’ this way but Apache, elves, and death.” The driver asked, not bothering to face Roland as he asked.

“If you are feeling scared, you can always refund my fare,” Roland said, keeping his own eyes on the horizon. The driver spit and said nothing more for the remaining ten miles. As the stage slowed to a halt, Roland dropped down to the dusty red soil, leaning his rifle against the coach as he retrieved the ornate wooden case and slung it over his shoulder with a leather strap. “Two days,” Roland said.

“What if you’re dead in two days?”

“I won’t be.” Roland adjusted his hat, pulling it down tight to shield his sensitive eyes. He walked away, waiting until he’d heard the clatter of the stage’s retreat before he stopped. He dropped the rifle and pulled his Colt from its holster on his hip, discarding it as well. Even through the silver plating the iron distorted his senses. As he stepped away from the weapons the world snapped into focus, and he could sense his place in it. More importantly he could sense another. Now he had two days to find and kill that man.

Flash Fiction Friday: Shazeel

I entered the dimness of tent and allowed my eyes a moment to adjust. Even as the sight before me came into focus it was still difficult to believe. Perched on a stool, his back still to me, was a Shazeel ranger. I’d never met one before and I couldn’t say that I was looking forward to the experience. To either side of me stood the guards that had been posted to keep a watch over him, though with a nod I dismissed them both. As they left the ranger cocked his head, turning an ear to follow my approach. It was rumored that the Shazeel were all blind, self inflicted at an early age. I myself found it difficult to believe, and considered it mostly superstition. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what this man looked like beneath the hard leather mask that hid every inch of his face.

“Captain Kalamar?” The ranger stood, offering a hand and facing me as I drew near. I accepted his hand and shook it firmly.

“You are not of my tribe, nor my subordinate, you may call me Ingadi.” I told him, breaking my grip and moving to my seat opposite him.

“I am Trian.” The Shazeel said, taking his seat easily. I wondered if he could somehow see out through the mask. Curiosity, and perhaps a bit of anxiety, was getting the better of me.

“I don’t suppose we can dispense with the mask?” I asking, hoping that it sounded casual enough.

“Amongst my people it is forbidden to share one’s face with anyone but your mate. Unless you intend to bed with me Captain, I must respectfully decline.” My jaw dropped a bit in shock and after a long moment of awkward silence Trian chuckled. “My apologies Ingadi, I only jest. I do not wish to make you uncomfortable, but must respect my beliefs as well. ”

“Of course, I intended no slight in asking. I suppose it was foolish of me.”

“Not at all. Our people have been kept distant for nearly a lifetime by an uneasy peace and even longer by war. There is much we do not know of one another.”

“That much is certain. For example, I don’t actually know why you are here.” Trian chuckled again, a gruff sound coming from beneath the leather cowl.

“To the heart of the matter then.” He raised a hand, gesturing toward the north. “I have been far afield, beyond the borders of your lands and of my own. I have been to the Edge, and have witnessed the Volnu preparing an enormous force. I believe that they will march soon. I am on my way back to my own people to spread the word, but had to cross your lands to do so. I felt that it was necessary to do you the courtesy of giving you whatever warning I could.”

“Dear God,” I said, my voice suddenly hoarse.

“Or gods,” Trian said, then stood nodding a farewell. “They will be here within a month’s time I believe, perhaps less. I suggest you put that time to it’s fullest use. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve more warnings to deliver.” Just like that he was gone, the only other sound was the flap of the tent falling back into place.

Flash Fiction Friday: Thank You For Flying

The flight attendant was making her final round with the drink cart on what should have been a short and uneventful commuter flight. Her smile was forced, the creases deep in her face and the ache of her facial muscles apparent to anyone willing to make even a nominal attempt at eye contact. No one was. The whole craft was shaking, as it had been for the last half hour, and though a few were seemingly growing used to the constant bounce, most of the passengers were strapped tightly to their seats, white knuckled, as they clung to any arm rest real estate they could muster. Everyone that is, except for Mr. Hopkins and his associate Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams looked perhaps more embarrassed than anything else, his posture bearing no resemblance to a man fearing for his life, as he hunkered down in his coach class seat next to his companion. Mr. Hopkins on the other hand stood calmly as near the center of the passenger cabin as he could manage.  His expression was only a little grumpy, though his face was never far from grump, and his eyes were well hidden behind smoke colored lenses. He wore a black suit, a hundred years outdated and all the more stylish for it, with a knee length coat of a similarly dark material. His hands, gloved in black lambskin, were palm up and held just below shoulder height. The only hint of color, a robin’s egg blue handkerchief, was tucked neatly into his vest pocket. He did not so much as flinch in the constant turbulence, but the air around his arms seemed to vibrate with energy.

“I cannot believe you are making such a show of this,” Mr. Williams mumbled his fingers rubbing diligently at his temples.

“I haven’t the time for a resurrection cycle, there is too much that needs doing right now,” Mr. Hopkins replied without looking. “Besides, aren’t you the one always going on about how I might do something to help the common man?” Mr. Hopkins nodded toward the fat man to the other side of him, wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and greasy pony tail. “How much more common do they come?”

“You might have simply prevented the wing from falling off, rather than engaging in this little bit theater,” Mr. Williams said, attempting a whisper loud enough to carry over the noise of air travel but not to the prickling ears about the cabin. Tension was high and the last thing they needed was for someone to distract Mr. Hopkins, or worse yet, make him angry. Many in attendance looked to be just as afraid of Mr. Hopkins as they were of crashing, staring at him wide eyed from their seats. Granted, if they knew Mr. Hopkins they’d fear him just a tad more. A fiery death was one thing, but Mr. Hopkins was something all together more. Much, much more, actually.

“You’re assuming I knew the wing was to even come off. You know, despite your suspicions on the matter, I haven’t a hand in everything dreadful,” he paused then looked down at his companion before continuing. “You know, you might have shot the terrorist before he detonated the device, rather than after. Had you thought of that?”

“My revolver was well hidden, it took some time to retrieve it.”

“I was rather surprised you managed to get that onboard. Where was that hidden?” Mr. Hopkins said, arching a single well manicured eyebrow above the brass wire frames.

“You’re the one always pretending to know everything,” Mr. Williams hissed.

“I never pretend,” Mr. Hopkins said, then cleared his throat. “Make yourself useful Williams and have the pilot radio ahead. We’ll be arriving shortly.” The plane began to descend as soon as Williams stood. The overhead speakers crackled to life a moment later.

“L-l-ladies and g-g-gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” a trembling voice announced. There was a sharp pop followed by static then the voice of Mr. Williams came through.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be arriving shortly in New Amsterdam airport. Please ensure your safety belts are buckled, your children silenced, and your prayers said.” There was a heavy clunk as the microphone was slapped back into the waiting palm of the captain. The hint of a smile tugged at the corner of Mr. Hopkins’s lips, though he stopped himself quickly.  The old adage, smile and the whole world smiles with you had never really applied to Mr. Hopkins and the people onboard were nervous enough as it was.

As Mr. Williams re-emerged from the cockpit, the flight attendant stopped him, gripping him by the sleeve.

“His arms aren’t going to get tired are they?” She asked, glancing back at Mr. Hopkins with arms still held out wide. Mr. Williams stared at her blankly for a moment.

“He’s keeping the plane aloft by forces you cannot hope to comprehend and you’re concerned about muscle fatigue?” Her cheeks flushed and she dipped her head in embarrassment. Mr. Williams returned to Mr. Hopkins side. “How are your arms holding up, not too tired?” he said from the corner of his mouth. Mr. Hopkins shrugged and the whole plane jolted.

“I’ll manage,” he said.

The plane dipped low, its tail drifting nearer the runway as they approached. Suddenly the whole vessel shook violently and the air was filled with a harsh metallic screeching. Mr. Williams, expressing his first hint of real fear, looked wide eyed at Mr. Hopkins.

“What the devil is going on?” Mr. Williams yelled to be heard over the den, as his fingers dug into the shabby seat upholstery.

“Ah, landing gears, I knew I’d forgotten something,” Mr. Hopkins said. He lifted his palms slightly and the whole plane followed, creaking and groaning as it fish tailed slightly. Mr. Hopkins raised his right foot and stomped it down onto the drab green carpet floor of the cabin. A mechanical whir sounded from within the belly of the jet and Mr. Williams shook his head, mumbling.

“Showoff.”

The craft bounced twice, the rubber tires protesting loudly and smoking darkly as they gobbled up the plane’s momentum. And then, rather anti-climatically, the entire plane simply coasted to a halt. Without a word, Mr. Hopkins turned and reached into the overhead compartment to retrieve his black Gladstone. The door to the craft opened of its own accord before he’d reached it, and the emergency slide was unfurling itself as Mr. Williams caught up to him. “You can’t just leave it at that, what are you going to do about all these people? The Order won’t like a mess like this hitting the media. Everyone here has seen what you can do,” Mr. Williams said, his hand catching at Mr. Hopkins’s shoulder.

“Indeed, they have. I think that is sufficient to keep this little incident secret,” Mr. Hopkins said, much louder than needed for Mr. Williams’s benefit. He then smiled wide and a few children began crying. With a turn and a step he was gone. Collectively, every passenger exhaled in relief, a sound so large that it entirely muffled the subtle “Whee!” from just outside.

Flash Fiction Friday: Man Turns Invisible, Neighbors Fail To Notice

Austin, TX. Friday afternoon Todd Bertram, a life long resident of the capital city, succeeded in his life long efforts to achieve invisibility. Inspired by comic books at an early age, and less innocent applications in his teenage years, Mr. Bertram has spent much of his adult life perfecting a chemical compound that would render the human body entirely invisible. Mr. Bertram would often spend long hours in his garage laboratory, experimenting and railing against the close minded scientific community that he claimed failed to recognize his brilliance. When asked if the chemicals or peculiar equipment ever caused any community disturbances his neighbors had this to say: “Who’s that again?”

Early in the week, Mr. Bertram sent invitations to all the local media outlets, including a number of bloggers and Twitter celebrities, indicating that he would be holding a press conference for his public unveiling of his new product, InvisiGoo. Refreshments were served in Mr. Betram’s living room before the three reporters in attendance were brought into the backyard for a demonstration. After applying the viscous gel to his skin Mr. Bertram remarked, “As my final visible act, I would like to give a one finger salute to all the haters that doubted me for all these years.”

“Yeah, he’s always been a bit of an ass,” commented long time friend Jamie Slovak. At that time Mr. Betram indeed faded from view, to the amazement of all five people in attendance. Mr. Betram promptly fell from his makeshift stage, apparently no longer able to see as his invisibility had rendered his retina’s useless.

“I suppose I should have anticipated that,” Mr. Betram said of his sudden blindness, after he’d secured ice for his sprained ankle. Mr. Betram’s current plans include learning brail and filing for disability.

Flash Fiction Friday: Guide Monkey

This one came from a writing prompt on Writing Excuses (A man crosses a desert with the aid of a monkey). What I came up with is a touch odd, but interesting. I think it might bear further exploration, but I didn’t want a repeat of last week where I posted nothing because I got carried away. That, and I’m really busy today and only had a few minutes to spare.

Jonas could feel the grit of the sand rub against his skin where the leather blindfold was intended to shield his eyes, but he could do nothing to relieve the pain as it ground deeper and deeper into his sensitive facial skin. It was for the best that he could not reach the stinking leather mask, he might be tempted to tear it away, but he knew that would only mean death. That didn’t keep him from thinking of doing so, hour after hour as he marched through the godforsaken heat of the Great Empty. Like any other prisoner along The Path his hands were bound, his neck braced stiffly upright, and his legs hobbled. His state left him little option but to continue the march towards Comicca, and hope that the sun, wind, and other horrors, that were only whispered about, did not claim him first.

Despite his best efforts he’d been unable to match the rhythm of the ghastly guide monkeys, the hideous headless beasts that guided him, magically bound to their heads in Comicca, they marched relentlessly. On his back he could still feel the writhing of the Anarba monkeys, equally bound to their own heads, these creatures would tow the Comicca monkeys, and perhaps some other unfortunate soul, back through the Great Empty once he’d arrived in Comicca. He shrugged as he felt the now familiar tug of one of the beasts correcting his course. Not having to watch the vile creatures was perhaps the only upside of the sweat stained leather mask.